Microsoft Windows 11: It’s Windows, But Elevener

Microsoft Windows 11 has officially launched and reviews of the new OS have rolled in across the internet. The collective opinion lands somewhere between a yawn, a shrug, and an approving nod.

Windows 11 is something of an odd duck compared to previous releases. Microsoft announced the OS in late June and shipped it in early October. That’s a three-month window compared to the typical 12-14 months of lead time Microsoft gives for a new OS release. The pre-launch conversation has largely focused on who can and can’t upgrade to the OS because of unclear messaging from Microsoft. The company has not yet clarified if it will provide security updates to users who install Windows 11 on older systems, for example.

The OS is larger than a controversy around its hardware requirements, however, so we won’t be rehashing those issues at the moment. Evaluated more generally, Windows 11 is pretty fine. It’s a moderate UI overhaul and refresh rather than a dramatic departure from Windows 10.5. Paradoxically, that’s made it harder to know what to say about it. As PCMag notes, “Much of what’s new amounts to reupholstering and rearranging the furniture.”

Windows 11’s Start Menu. Image by PCMag.

Some Windows 11 UI features, like enhanced window snapping options and the overhauled right-click context menus have been praised. Reviewers have called out decreased Taskbar flexibility as one negative and no one thinks much of the new Widgets, but the reactions to the OS are generally muted. Engadget found the new UI frustrating in some respects but concluded with “Windows 11 is inevitable,” which feels pretty accurate.

As inevitabilities go, however, this one is pretty slow-rolling. For most people, the negatives are not strong enough to make it worth avoiding and the positives are not significant enough to make it a near-term, must-have upgrade. Gamers, specifically, may not want to upgrade to Windows 11 just yet due to performance drops in some titles.

Windows 11 is clearly intended to integrate the end user more tightly into Microsoft’s product ecosystem. Widgets only use Microsoft Bing, regardless of a user’s browser preferences. Browser preferences themselves are still more difficult to change than in Windows 10. Users with Windows 11 Home are required to have a Microsoft account and Wi-Fi access to setup their PCs, and while the type of user account can be changed after login Microsoft is aware that most people won’t make that step. Given that most people use Windows Home, it’s a safe bet that end users who haven’t already created Microsoft accounts will be doing so in the near future. Watch for a Microsoft PR blast crowing over how people have embraced the “option” at some point.

I feel like I ought to be able to find more to say about Windows 11, but I’ve been unable to muster even the slightest enthusiasm for it. Outside of the potential impact of a new scheduler on Alder Lake, the launch feels like a non-event. I don’t plan to run it on my own system any time soon, which is not unusual for me — I didn’t upgrade to Windows 10 until after the Anniversary Edition in 2016, and giving Windows 11 an extra year to bake seems like a good idea.

Windows 11 doesn’t seem likely to follow in the footsteps of Vista or Windows 8, if only because it doesn’t take enough risks to do so. Love them or loathe them, both Vista and Windows 8 made large changes to the underlying Windows experience. Windows 11 is more of a UI reskin with a few extra features tacked on top, and none of the changes are fundamental enough to inspire much in the way of backlash — or an adoption boom, outside of that which is going to occur by natural adoption, since the OS will be offered as a free update to machines that qualify.

So, should you plan to upgrade to Windows 11? Not unless you want to. If you’re an enthusiast who built your system around Windows 10, there are no near-term features or capabilities that would justify an upgrade, especially if you don’t want to activate Secure Boot and enabling TPM.

Should you avoid buying Windows 11? Again, not unless you want to. Windows 10 has another four years of life in it. Features like DirectStorage are supported in Windows 10. Gamers will need to be aware of some particular settings that can reduce performance — even general-purpose users can lose a few percentage points of performance here — but these are issues that Microsoft will likely correct in short order. It is not terribly unusual for a new version of Windows to be a bit slower than a previous one while driver issues are sorted out, and Microsoft 11 will roll out to users in the coming weeks, not all at once.

Thus far, the defining characteristic of Windows 11 is how much of a non-event this launch is. It has something of the feel of a contractually obligated movie that both studio and film star were required to make. It’s not bad, but it’s also not the complete break with previous Windows UI design that some were hoping for.

Now Read:

  • Most Windows Users Are Unaware of Windows 11’s Existence, Survey Finds
  • Windows 11 Feels Like a Rejection What Windows 10 Stood For
  • Microsoft Needs to Clarify Its Windows 11 Update Policy Before Launch